This weekend, one of my co-workers organized a dinner for a local shelter.

This particular shelter relies on donations from organizations and businesses in order to feed whoever walks in the door. My office sent a sign up sheet around and filled it in an hour. I was happy to see homemade cookies, casseroles, lasagna, salads, fruit, and grilled chicken. The food was hearty, hot, and filling on a cold December night.

Before having kids, I was pretty active on the volunteering circut. Relay for Life, MDA, March of Dimes, St. Jude’s, toy drives, Thanksgiving dinners…I volunteered for them all.

After having kids, I ran out of time and, to some extent, money.

But this year, with all the “I wants” starting to crop up, I thought it might be a good idea to give my kids a tiny dose of reality. We worked together to make our chicken pot pie and then drove to the shelter. We parked and walked to the door to drop off our meal and see if they needed any help.

As we walked in the door, Joseph clung to my shirt and whispered, “Do people live here?”

We’d discussed what a homeless shelter was before we’d arrived, but the reality is always so much more shocking. Children and families sat on twin bunk beds crammed together in tight rows. A hodgepodge of tables and chairs filled the rest of the cramped space. It was too tight for the number of volunteers, so the kids and I walked outside again where I tried to answer their questions.

Yes, some people spend the night here.

Yes, I know it isn’t very pretty, but the shelter depends on donations and warm is better than pretty.

Yes, those kids are your age and probably go to school just like you.

Yes, their mommy and daddy are trying very hard to help them.

No, I don’t think they have aunts and grandparents to stay with.

And, finally, yes, Santa will give those kids presents too. I swallowed a lump and added another gift to my list.

How do you show your children how to give?